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10 Year Anniversary


In 2002 I was programming PIC microcontrollers with a Warp-13A programmer:

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This was the setup on my desk. Guess what you get when you connect a programmer (Warp on the left) to a PIC16F84A plus EEPROM (I2C) and a UV40 GPS receiver. Yep, that’s a GPS logger circa 2002 technology. Shocking.

As I moved the programmer around on my desk it shorted out on a few bits of wire and my $150 programmer went up in smoke. I was an in-debt student with no money for the first programmer let alone a replacement. The cheapest, best programmer I could find came from Olimex in Bulgaria. In 2002, the website didn’t have online checkout so I decided it might be good to start a website that sold Olimex parts. Over the Christmas break from school SparkFun.com was cobbled together.

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The old logo known as the ‘Park Fun’ logo

This was our booth at Robothon in Seattle, WA in 2004. All it takes is a logo on a polo shirt and people think you’re more than a guy sending stuff out of a bedroom.

Who thought we’d make it this long? Not me. I remember showing my roommates the first SparkFun order and realizing that I didn’t even have a box to put the order in! That was January 3rd of 2003. After that day it was a roller coaster ride to 135 employees, 500 designed SparkFun products and over 650,000 boxes shipped.

Thanks to all the folks who’ve helped support SparkFun over the past 10 years. You’ve helped us grow. And if you’ve been paying attention, you’re part of an amazing metamorphosis of the electronics world. Every time I hear that a class of 8th graders are learning how to blink LEDs I realize that we’re making a difference. I also get the uneasy feeling that I could easily be replaced by a 15 year old in a few years time.

Thanks to all the amazing people who work or have worked at SparkFun over the years. You’ve helped make an amazing place that I enjoy heading to every morning. I look forward to the ride for many more years.


Comments 58 comments

  • Nate, the last words I told you, and there were only three, months before I was hired by SparkFun were:

    You inspire me.

    It’s still true. Do you remember?

    I’ll give you a hint, I had a grizzly hobo-ish beard at the time. Thanks for all the dollar bills, yo.

    • “You inspire me.” Im living out my dream thanks to you Nate. I agree with all three of these words, and with the order in which they were written.

      • I could as easily go with “Inspire me, YOU!”.

        But just because I want more.

  • I still have my Olimex ICD clone that I bought from you back in the middle of 2003. It’s been great to see the success that SparkFun has accomplished in the marketplace. I’m also proud to be trusted with the forum moderation (and then some) even though I’m not an employee. Here’s to another 10 great years!

    • I cannot thank you enough Phalanx. Thanks for being our gracious moderator for many years.

    • I’ll second Nate’s thanks - you’ve been doing great work on the forum for as long as I’ve worked here, especially considering how often we’ve been too swamped to give it the care and feeding it deserves. It’s much appreciated.

  • That polo shirt talk is no joke. With the right shirt and hat you can walk into any building, order any number of ‘samples’ and open any utility box (not that I’d know anything about that) and THAT’S if you’re completely unqualified.

    Imagine what doors open when you have a polo shirt AND you actually do legit work.

    Happy 10th, I’m dressed for success today. I’m afraid the only door this getup would open for me is the valet stand, though. #BlackTie

  • Looks like you shipped half a million orders between 2009 and 2012. More than the previous years put together !

    Order ID    Order Date 
    659013  2012-12-15  
    102788  2009-03-03  
    89821   2008-12-16  
    60107   2008-05-04  
    59365   2008-04-27  
    50182   2008-02-14  
    48940   2008-02-05  
    45327   2008-01-02  
    44201   2007-12-17  
    40166   2007-11-01  
    37931   2007-10-06  
    25399   2007-04-10  
    24355   2007-03-27  
    9433    2006-08-18  
    6381    2006-06-10  
    5665    2006-05-23  
    
    • The current order system, which is sequential and in a database, started in November of 2005. Prior to that I’m not sure how things were done (I started in the fall of ‘06) but my guess is it’s in a spreadsheet that has been lost to the sands of time. Or maybe it’s still on a hard drive in Nate’s attic somewhere.

      So while the number of orders between January 2003 and November 2005 is probably a drop in the bucket compared to everything since then, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know just what that number was.

      • It was funny looking at this the other day, ot least because I realised that I hadn’t ordered anything in such a long time. I bought a house at the end of 2008, which seems to have killed my playing time !

        It is nice to see the growth of the company, although I’m quite sad to see the number of Olimex products carried decline. My first purchases were those boards, mostly PIC related, and I can see how over time, certainly for hobbyists, it’s gone from throw a PIC at the problem, to throw an Arduino at it, and the stock must change to suit.

        The two other big change I’ve seen, are the increase in the number of SF own design and built boards which I think is fantastic. The other one I’m less thrilled about, but unfortunately understand. You carry a lot of, what I can best describe as “crap from China”. I know that to grow and remain competitive SF, has to do business with China. it’s inevitable. Just I would personally pay a bit more to keep the dollars in the US.

    • Half a million orders during a recession where people aren’t supposed to have much disposable income is pretty impressive. You guys are certainly doing something right!

  • As one of your biggest fans, and a tech-bootstrapper, this story is very inspiring. Congratulations on your growth and success, and many thanks for the support you guys have shown our Fundi Bots robotics program down in Africa.

    Wishing you guys many more years of awesome!

  • Back in my day, the entire site was under /commerce/! Glad to see the old links still work, though!

    • Glad to see the old links still work, though!

      I should really check and see how many still do - we set up a bunch of redirects back when we rewrote the whole thing, but some of ‘em might have gotten a bit rusty since.

  • Oh, so that’s why I’m so cynical about sincere young guys in logo’d polo shirts!

    You’ve got a great resource here, not just for hobbyists but for small businesses, too – please keep it up.

  • Congratulations Nate! I had a great experience at Sparkfun, thanks for getting me started.

  • I made my first order as regular customer back in 2006 in the old blue website with the famous “Parkfun” logo. Sparkfun was in the old little office and I can remember just a bunch of (interesting) products that I probably know about all of them. Now is allmost imposible to see how much cool products there are wich is great. Your Big Wall clock was just released and I can’t believe how much awesome and crazy this company are! Just one year later, we start selling Sparkfun products at bricogeek.com and now, 6 years later, we are one of the most large Sparkfun reseller un Spain, wich is super cool but probably the reason of our little success is the incredible support we get with you guys. Unsurprisingly you arrived there.

    I wish you another 10 years (and more!) of great grow. Thanks Nate and thanks to all your folks for being a brilliant company.

    Best regards!

  • I bought an Olimex PIC programmer from you in June of ‘03 (off eBay)! It’s been great seeing Sparkfun grow and filling a need that was missing. Keep it up!

    • Wow! That was a long time ago :) We sold ‘kits’ on eBay for a few months trying to get our name out there. I’m glad you found us way back then. Thanks for all the years of visiting us!

  • Congrats Sparfun! What a great resource for all of us thanks for all you guys and gals do.

  • Congrats Nate!

  • Felicitaciones por esos 10 años a todo el equipo de SparkFun, al igual que nosotros celebramos 10 años (en binario) de ofrecer los productos de SFE en Caracas, Venezuela.

    www.ElectronicaMagnabit.com

  • I haven’t known about Sparkfun for its entire lifetime, but I wish I had. Whenever someone asks (or doesn’t), I recommend Sparkfun. Your company has a great blend of customer care, originality, honesty, and openness. Keep it up!

  • HAPPY BIRTHDAY SPARKFUN!!!! :D :D

  • I had tried back in the early 2000’s to learn how all this electrical stuff works and I was probably too impatient at the time. Flash forward about 8-9 years and the Arduino comes along and Sparkfun is a major player in that market. I couldn’t have learned half of what I’ve learned over the past few years without Sparkfun. I actually have my first “alpha model” (we’ll call it) prototype of a project that I just finished today sitting on my desk to my left.

    Thanks Sparkfun for the way you do things and the learning that you encourage. Here’s to 10 more.

  • Thanks for the difference you have made, and continue to make.

    (And for providing us with fun toys to play with!)

  • successful journey, i hope it keeps multiplying Nate

  • Hi Nate,

    Its truly amazing to see the growth of sparkfun and kudos that way that sparkfun kept the ball rolling across varying economic turbulence that exists and also inspiring a lot of companies around the world (like us)!

    Best wishes for Sparkfun’s future endeavors !

    Ram Tenet Technetronics Bangalore, India

  • I would call those the good old days of hardware programming but they were a bit tough. You had to get your PIC talking to your crystal oscillator, all your ports sorted out, pulled down, after debugging that for a day or so then it was finally time to program! At least that is what we called trying to creatively cram a your code onto as few lines as possible before the demo software loader told you to upgrade for a tidy $300.

    Arduino makes me feel as if the wind is blowing in my hair. Just start stabbing in wires and writing as much code as that thing will hold.

    My story with Sparkfun goes a good way back. I was dating this girl, while in college. Things didn’t work out between us but while visiting her parents house one day I caught a glimpse into her dads home office. He worked for HP. One look at the lab desk he kept and I fell in love. It was kind of awkward. We had broken up so she would go into her room and hide while I hung out with her dad for hours on end learning electronics.

    He had all the best gear worth thousands so when I was back in the dorm room I started tearing apart old vcrs for parts and searching the web for whatever I could get for a few bucks. That’s when I found Sparkfun selling olimex programmers on ebay and placed my first order. That must have been 03-04. I think there was business card in there with the old park fun logo on it.

    Been great to see the company grow and for so many to get into this amazing world of electrical creativity.

  • Nate, for every thousand 13 year old kids with the same dream as you, only one will actually have the courage and dedication make it reality. I was one of those thousand, but never realized the dream. It’s been awesome watching you do what I dreamed of long ago. My hat’s off to you and I wish you all the success you have earned. Keep up the great work!

  • grats nate good job.

  • Woah SparkFun and I have the same Birthday! Cool! =D Well, except I’m 19 years older.

  • It’s great to see somebody pursuing his passion and becoming so successful. Congratulations and keep on going!

  • Excelente Pagina. Excelente Personal 100% apoyo tecnologico y seguro. Felicitaciones desde Venezuela. www.electronica.com.ve

  • What’s the story behind the first logo? It looks to me like smoke from fried parts or maybe from the tip of the soldering iron. Happy Anniversary and while I didn’t remember the first logo I’ve been quietly visiting the site for some time and since I never place my orders none will show up under my profile but believe me I’ve ordered a good deal from you guys. P.S. I look forward to the new product Friday and the other learning videos…

  • I remember meeting Nate and the crew on their tour to the Danish hackerspaces Illutron, Labitat and of course Copenhagen Suborbitals. I don’t think that I have met a CEO with such humble attitude towards his field. Completely ackknowledging the fact that thare are thousands of people around the world working with electronics every day each in their own field of expertice and still so very focused on the overall goal of making electronics available easy and fun to everybody (or as many as possible).

    I am not trying to suck up to you guys but I think you have a unique position on the electronics scene - The will and power to teach and tell all that are interested, that electronics can be more than just a tiny blob on a PCB and more than an alien schematic inside a computer screen. For me, sparkfun helps bringing ideas to life and that is what it is all about!

  • Congrats team Sparkfun!

  • Wow, Happy 10 years! So glad to have found this amazing company years ago, and so fortunate to live close enough to have attended all 4 AVCs, the Antimov competition (still waiting here with my robot to enter the next one), and taken class there. It’s great to take the tour every year, and see how much more of the building you’ve taken over, see the increasing numbers on the employee wall, and connect with so many wonderful people there. Here’s to another 105 years!

  • Happy 10th anniversary!!!

  • HAPPY TENTH ANNIVERSARY SPARKFUN!! MUCH LOVE AND RESPECT!!

  • A great story and a nice Robothon photo! That was the first year Cathy and I were on the organizing committee. It’s been great watching SparkFun grow from a tiny operation to the big time. Best wishes for another decade of success in helping many people build cool things.

  • Congrats, Nate & SparkFun!

  • Thanks Nate for sticking with it.

    Also thanks for demonstrating to the old folks that new and unconventional works just fine!!

  • Congrats! It’s awesome to see how much Sparkfun has influenced the growing community of future technologists!

  • Wishing even more success in the next 10 years. They’ll go by even faster than the first 10. Just checked my first order was way back in the summer of 06. Congratulations!

  • We love you SFE!!! Happy 10 years!! I wish you another 10 amazing years and many many more after that!

  • Your example is really inspiring; currently I’m working from a bedroom (well, which ever room the laptop’s in) with 2 mates and a website, building online games. I look up to what you’ve done as you built a company from nothing and filled a gap in the market, kinda how we’re working.

    I’ve no clue whether we’ll make it into the world of big games but we have a laugh, enjoy it and we can continue in our spare time whatever happens.

  • 10 years ago, I was using a Warp13a too, and I’m still using it today, on the bench, as basically a toy, just twiddling pins as needed. If it ain’t broke…

    Wonder whatever happened to Jim @ Newfound?

    • Jim retired from the biz, oh, probably six or eight years ago now. There was some attempt to find someone to keep up with the Warp13a (it was my first programmer as well!) but in the end it just kind of faded away.

      Fortunately, that was about the time that other reasonably priced options started to hit the market, so it wasn’t that great a loss, but still a sad ending to a beautiful piece of hardware.

      Also, FWIW, he didn’t open-source the firmware or the design before he quit. I was always irked by that.

      • I used the Warp13a too, but got stymied when I needed to program a more recent PIC variant. The new firmware was available, but it removed the documented protocol and only supported the (then) undocumented PICKIT protocol. I was tired of all the obfuscation for anyone not running MS-DOS and punted PIC for AVR. Microchip seems to have gotten the message, but I’m not motivated to change microcontroller vendors again.

      • I worked with him a bit back then trying to get some of the newer PICs supported, but like you say, the “practically open source” PICKIT2 came out, and all but killed it. As it sits right now, I replaced the PIC that was on it (still got the old versions!), put in my own with ‘custom’ firmware, basically turning the Warp13 board into a serial controlled I/O expander. Works like a champ…

  • Congratulations and Happy Anniversary Nate ! You guys have been providing great service and lot of fun and continue to do so, very pleased being your customer for many years. Keep with the good work Cheers Jorge

  • Hope you have many more successful decades.

  • Congratulations on your anniversary! In your 10 year roller coaster ride I think yo have helped many people including me. Now when people ask me what I do, I can say I design products that are sold around the world thanks to SparkFun!

  • Congratulations Nate! I’m really proud to say “I knew you back when….” Thanks for making it easy for me to get into electronics and develop a new hobby with my Dad! Happy Anniversary!!!

  • Who is that handsome young fellow behind the booth?

    You certainly make a difference, Nate, judging by how the ubiquitous red box has become the unofficial geek carry case (for any electronics, not just what arrived in it) and a secret handshake to other electronic tinkerers. Congratulations to everyone at SparkFun and many, many happy returns!

  • Congratulation, Nate!


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